Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Rating: 4.5 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity's last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie. That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda."

Review:  Wow.  Usually I wait a couple of weeks to write up my book reviews - I find the time and distance helps me digest the story and my reaction to it - but I just finished this book a couple of hours ago, and I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT IT.  I have so many thoughts swirling around and crashing into each other; I feel like there's a hurricane going on in my brain.  So I'm going to forgo my usual two-week buffer and write this review now.  I just HAVE to talk about this book.  Immediately.

SO.  The first thing you should know is that this book will not be for everyone.  It is very violent.  More violent than The Hunger Games.  (Note: This will not be the first time The Hunger Games appears in this review.)  There are also instances of sexual violence in this book (implied, not shown) that could be triggering.  Because of this I would advise caution, especially to younger readers who I think could be very disturbed by the graphic violence.  To be frank, I don't think this should be classified as a YA book at all.  It felt much more adult to me, and I wouldn't recommend it to teens.  Or some adults.

Okay, on to the review.  Red Rising is very ambitious.  It tackles corruption, revolution, injustice, violence, nepotism, power, and ambition, all very strongly; but, above all that, the main theme in this novel seems to be a moral battle between vengeance and justice - mainly within our hero, Darrow, but also within this world galaxy at large.  Much of this novel is spent displaying these issues, less to dissecting them.  But Brown's writing is very high quality, and I hope for more meaty dialogue surrounding these issues in the next books.  (Yes, it's the start of a series.)

The scope of this book is just as ambitious as its themes.  It's a sci-fi dystopia, so we have whole new (corrupt) worlds to learn about.  Darrow is born a Red on Mars, the lowest on the social heirachy.  We learn not only about his life, culture, and worldview as a Red, but also of the life, culture, and worldview of many other castes.  We learn how they think, and where their blind spots and prejudices lie.  We learn about the issues and problems unique to different castes along with Darrow, and empathize with his rage and determination to overhaul the entire system.  By the end of the book, we don't just have one worldview, but several within the same world.  It's a difficult feat, but Brown accomplishes it well.

The cast list is perhaps the most ambitious of all.  There are a lot of people to keep track of in this book.  Dozens and dozens and dozens, and almost all with ancient Roman names.  But somehow I not only remembered them all, but actually felt like I knew them.  Sevro, Mustang, Cassius, Roque, Pax... I could see them.  Feel them breathe.  Predict what they would say to each other.  I love it when that happens.  

I didn't love how some characters entered the book, had important scenes and strong character development, and then left the book early on with no mention of them ever again.  I thought they would be Important Characters, but looking back, they were pretty auxiliary.  I wish some of those scenes in the beginning were edited down so we didn't go through this.  

Darrow morphs quite a bit in this book, both literally and metaphorically.  He undergoes a severe and extreme physical transformation in order to fake his position as a Gold, but his mental and emotional transformation is even more intense.  If you compare the first page from the last, Darrow is unrecognizable.  But I think that kind of transformation was critical to his success.  He makes mistakes along the way, but he's a quick study and evolves and becomes better, smarter, and more dangerous, each time. 

The most impressive part of this book, however, is the plot.  I enjoyed parts one and two, but by the time we got to part three I absolutely could not put this book down.  It was addicting and dangerous and suspenseful, and as the stakes got higher and higher I had no idea what was going to happen next.  I could not put the book down, and I'd place it next to The Hunger Games and Divergent regarding the addiction factor.

Speaking of The Hunger Games, there will be a lot of people comparing these two series'.  Most notably, the competition wherein kids violently compete against each other.  I understand the comparisons, but I feel like these two stories are very different.  For one, Katniss is a reluctant hero.  She never wants to be the savior of Panam.  Darrow might not be born with a revolutionary streak, but once his fire is lit there is no way anyone could call him reluctant.  Those two protagonists set very different tones for their stories.  

Also, and more importantly, The Hunger Games is very anti-violence in its message.  Red Rising is not anti-violence at all.  It's focus is not on the negative effects of war on children, like THG.  Its focus is on power and corruption and justice.  Darrow knows that it takes a lot of blood to change a galaxy, and it's a price he's willing to pay.  He's not completely unfeeling - he sobs after his first kill - but I wished for more regret and heaviness on his part when it came to the deaths of those he didn't know or like.  Even his enemies.  Taking a life is a very serious thing (obviously) and even if it's done in self-defense, it changes you.  Or at least it should.  RR could take a note from THG on that point.

So there are parallels to The Hunger Games, but the similarities never bothered me.  Red Rising is a harder, sharper (though not necessarily better) story, and I am looking forward to the next book to see what Brown has in store for his fans.

I have one last thought: This book should have been proofread by a feminist.  I am pretty positive this book does not pass the Bechdel Test.  There are female characters, but very, very few in positions of power.  And very rarely more than one in any given scene (which inevitably features several males) if they appear at all.  But, the thing that bugged me the most, was the gender-based derogatory slang thrown around.  Doing something "like a girl" was mentioned multiple times, and always in a negative sense.  There is a moment after a battle when a character from the winning side makes fun of a character from the losing side by braiding his hair into pigtails.  Because, you know, pigtails are a girl thing, and girls are less than boys, so the pigtails are an insult.  And no one even seemed to notice that anything was wrong with that line of thinking.  Moments like that had this girl feeling annoyed and defensive and irritated.  I knocked down half a star just for those moments of stupid sexism.  Seriously, Mr. Brown, next time have a feminist proofread your work.  Those moments need to go.

Okay, so clearly I had a lot to talk about.  (SORRY.)  But for real, what do you think?  Will you read this, knowing it's so violent?  Will the promise of addition get you hooked?  Do you notice or are you bothered by the Hunger Games comparisons?  Do the moments of sexism bother you as much as they bother me??  Are you going to die because Golden Son (book 2) doesn't come out for four more months?!?

Bottom Line: An incredibly ambitious and well written and completely addicting new series that will leave you with a lot to think about.  I am HOOKED and can't wait to read book #2, though I wouldn't recommend it widely because of the strong graphic violence.  Fans of The Hunger Games and/or Game of Thrones will probably eat this story right up.


  1. I agree that this probably shouldn't be YA! The violence was. . . wow! I compared it to The Hunger Games as well. This book made The Hunger Games look like a walk in the park though. I read this book earlier this year, and I'm still not over it. I can't wait for the next sequel!

    1. Yeah, it seemed way too violent for the YA classification. I completely devoured this book, though, and cannot wait for Golden Son!!


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